Posts Tagged ‘culture’

On Sunday, August 18, I went downtown to watch a protest rally held in front of the Presidential Office.

I do not understand the underlying issues well enough to comment on the reasons behind the protest itself, nor should I on this blog. If you’re curious about the event specifics, check out these English news articles: Thousands join development protest and Protestors occupy government building.

Actually, part of what determined why I went was because I read about the incorporation of traditional funeral rites into the protest setting, which sounded really interesting and tangentially related to my work.

Another part of why I went is that emphasis was made by the organizers that, even if their slogan about tearing down the government sounded violent, the protest was to be a peaceful one. In light of ongoing violent protests worldwide, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, and no matter what country you live in, I think we can agree to be thankful for public spaces and political cultures that support peaceful protest. I am thankful for that freedom that Taiwanese have.


People brought their children. Police were out in force, but not forcefully so, if that makes any sense.

When I first got there, it seemed like there were more journalists than protesters present, but as the rally’s start time approached, the reporters finally had something to report on.

All ages were represented.

Then I ran into an old friend from my summers working in city government in Kaohsiung, who, as it turned out, was one of the emcees for the rally.

It was a powerfully affective afternoon in a resonant place in Taipei.

I think most protests don’t make international news unless they turn ugly. For your information, here’s one that didn’t.


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Last night I went to my dancing-with-the-aunties exercise class for the last time. The typhoon kept 2/3 of the class at home, so only a dedicated few were there to dance to American club music from the 1990s and then stretch to piano concertos, give me hugs and take some silly photos.


Topics of conversation while we did our exercises included what Laoshi’s mother should be fed to keep her from losing weight in her old age,

    Ensure and chicken bouillon

what people think about retirement homes,

    It’s agreed that retirement homes sound like fun – your own room, TV, and fridge and clubs to join and activities like knitting classes.

the best age at which to have children,

    My age, apparently. =o

what the greatest inconvenience of having children is,

    Laoshi said that milk powder is too expensive, but another woman reminded her that kids don’t need milk powder for as many years as they need to go to school.

about how some children are born owing you something from a previous life and how others are born with you owing them something, and that Laoshi thinks maybe she hadn’t made enough incense offerings in a previous life so she’s saddled with taking care of her grandchildren in this one,

    An alternate theory proposed is that she actually is being blessed with having a full house with children and grandchildren to cheer her in her older age, and that any life happening can be turned into a better interpretation.

and whether or not LA is anywhere near Chicago.

    It isn’t.

You can probably see that nobody particularly takes this class seriously. Its effect on my fitness level has been minimal, but going isn’t about that.

I’ll miss rolling my eyes along with the mirror’s reflection of the woman in purple when we both notice Laoshi losing count as she gets distracted by talking about what she saw on the news or giving advice or complaining about kids these days. I’ll miss the bizarre results that these exercises are supposed to bring about (Keep you from going bald! Shrink your appetite! Help your memory!). I may get in better shape with a yoga or pilates class back in Chicago, but I probably won’t have as much fun.

It sounds kind of ridiculous, but I think I fulfilled the purpose of the Fulbright grant most of all this year through joining this class. I became part of a neighborhood. I made friends. Sometimes we compared how things are in Taiwan versus how they are in America. For all its zaniness, for all that I could barely keep my face straight through sometimes, those two hours every week with a group of accepting, friendly women has been really important to me.


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Hau defends construction fatalities online database

Taipei Deputy Mayor Chang Chin-oh (張金鶚) said the latest version of the map can serve as a reference for homebuyers to identify whether a property is “haunted” before purchasing it.

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I always forget about American Father’s Day. It’s sometime in June, but one of those variable Sunday holidays that hasn’t ever stuck in my memory.

Father’s Day in Taiwan, however, is impossible to forget.

And that’s not just because Wellcome offers special deals on shaving cream, razors, deep friers and scales. (Wait, what? Equal opportunity size-ism in Taiwan?)

In Mandarin, the colloquial word for “father” is “爸爸 ba ba.” In Mandarin, the number eight is 八 ba.

Therefore, August 8 (八八 ba ba) is clearly Father’s Day. Simple. Easy to remember.

I wish it was so easy in America.

If you forgot Father’s Day back in June, let your father know it’s Father’s Day in Taiwan to make up for it! That’s what I do every year.

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Propitiate v. 1. trans. To make well-disposed or favourably inclined; to win or regain the favour of; to appease, conciliate. OED

Today is the first day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. In popular religious culture, this marks the opening of the gates of purgatory/hell, from which ghosts are released to roam the world for the month’s duration. The culmination point is on the 15th day of the month, the full moon, when the gates are at their widest point and grand rituals are held all over to feed the ghosts and save them from their suffering. After that climax, the gates will slowly close until they shut at the end of the month, and the world is safe from most wandering spirits for another year.

Roughly speaking, all the spirits of the deceased are allowed to roam the earth for this month. This isn’t so bad if it’s the spirits of one’s ancestors to whom one makes offerings to normally anyway. These ghost know where home is, they know where to go once released.

The problem is that the ghosts who do not fit into the system of offerings to ancestors (those who died unmarried or without descent, or those whose families have forgotten them) remain starving in purgatory for most of the year. Also, those who died in unfortunate accidents or murders might harbor grudges against the living. These hungry ghosts wander. Therefore, fear is a real part of this month-long festival for those who believe in its occurrence. Offerings of food, special paper money, and incense can help to ease their starving souls and placate their anger and sadness.

Propitiation comes in because if these ghosts aren’t placated, they are supposed to cause all kinds of mischief and disaster over the course of this month.

The roots of this festival go deep into traditional Chinese culture. It transcends Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism to encompass all practitioners at once. Over this next month, I hope to go into some aspects of this month – both historic and contemporary means of marking its passage.


For further reading:

Teiser, Stephen. The ghost festival in medieval China. Princeton UP, 1988.
Teiser, Stephen. The Scripture on the Ten Kings and the Making of Purgatory in Medieval Chinese Buddhism. University of Hawai’i Press, 1994.

Jordan, David K. “Gods and Ghosts” in Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: Folk Religion of a Taiwanese Village. University of California Press, 1972.
-The entire book is available on his delightful website, where he has other resources for the study of Chinese religion and culture as well.

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A silly little connection was just created in my head thanks to an article on filial piety I’m reading this afternoon.

The author wrote: “People speak, for example, of “the eight virtues” (bādé 八德)…” at which point I thought, “yes, just like the street in Kaohsiung!”

Thanks to the streets in my hometown, I “know” that there are sets of things in Chinese culture that are numbered. I just can’t tell you what each of those things are.

But the list goes:
一心 – One heart
二聖 – Two Sages
三多 – Three Manys (Many whats? Turns out it’s three blessings: Much luck, long life, many sons)
四維 – Four Pillars
五福 – Five Blessings
六合 – Six Togethernesses
七賢 – Seven Scholars
八德 – Eight Virtues
九如 – Nine Likenesses (如 might be better translated as “as,” but you try using “Nine Ases Road” without giggling.)
十全 – Ten Complete (I’ve always thought this is complete just because it’s the end of the list. Like, 10/10 roads have names. Childhood explanations, these.)

“Know” is in quotations because thirty seconds with google took me to this Kaohsiung teacher’s website and I learned, for example, that 九如 is an idiomatic felicitous phrase, not actually a list of nine 如s. And that Six Togethernesses actually implies that Heaven, Earth, North, South, East, and West are six things that encompass the cosmos.

Anyway, back to those eight virtues.

What came next in the article actually made my jaw drop: “[Eight Virtues] universally remembered in the order in which they occur as names of streets in Taipei.”

Those four streets:
忠孝 – Loyalty, Filiality
仁愛 – Benevolence, Love
信義 – Sincerity, Righteousness
和平 – Harmony, Tranquility.

We have three of those roads in Kaohsiung, albeit one is just a lane, really. They never made much impression on me, although I remember my parents’ place of work was on 仁愛街 (Benevolence Love Lane) from the time when I was a baby until I was about 5.

Picture 7

In Taipei, these are major thoroughfares. 仁愛路 (Benevolence Love Road) and 信義路 (Sincerity Righteousness Road) come together into a broad boulevard (Ketagalan Road, named for an aboriginal tribe that once lived in this area whose language is now extinct) which ends at the Presidential Office. Commentary could be made about this, but I won’t be the one to do so.

Picture 8

I definitely won’t forget the eight virtues now. I guess my time in Taipei has taught me something after all.

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When I posted last week about my ongoing questions about identity and feeling Taiwanese in America, I had no idea it would become my most-viewed post ever and elicit such a positive response from the Taiwanese American community.

I owe TaiwaneseAmerican.org a huge thank you. My post linking to them triggered an alert, which led someone there to read what I’d written. Their almost immediate response was overwhelmingly kind.

Picture 10
(click to enlarge for readability)

In a single day, I saw hundreds of new readers visit this little blog, some of whom left comments here or messaged me with friendly words on Facebook. Days later, I still lack the words to describe how grateful I feel for such an open, welcoming response.

From now on, if you see me in Chicago joyfully wearing my Taiwan pride t-shirt, make sure to say “Lí-hó!”

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